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The Gloves Are Off

Voices for Creative Non-Violence UK Newsletter January 2018

Today Kabul endured another Taliban attack, current reports say at least 95 were killed and 185 injured after an ambulance packed with explosives was driven past a police checkpoint and into a street of government workers. Just in this week alone attacks have included the Intercontinental Hotel where 22 people were killed, and Save the Children in Jalalabad which killed 3 and injured 25.

Our friends in the Afghan Peace Volunteers are all fine, narrowly missing the attack today while attending an exhibition of peace photography.

Meanwhile last month US military officials announced in regards to Afghanistan “the gloves are off”. In the coming year the US intends to double its Afghan Special Operations and triple Afghan Air Force.

In December US and Afghan forces conducted 455 airstrikes, an average of 15 per day, compared with just 65 for the previous year. Between August and December 2017 there were 2,000 airstrikes which is nearly as many as 2015 and 2016 combined.

The blitz is set to intensify as the US withdraws from Iraq and Syria, redeploying assets such as jets, field advisers and drones to Afghanistan. 

The US Air Force says there are now nearly three squadrons worth of Reaper Drones in Kandahar, these include the new bigger Block 5 version which can carry an external fuel tank allowing the drone to fly further and stay in the air for even longer. US military say this drone fleet might only be the start of a larger drone mission both in size and scope. 

Today my Facebook feed was full of disturbing photos from Kabul, posted by my young friends, comments included “We are alive but Kabul is dead”.

Other Afghans in Kabul ask “Why do EU countries still deport Afghan refugees back to Kabul despite deadly attacks now being weekly to daily”. Three quarters of families forced to flee their homes are not receiving any aid assistance, one in two are highly food insecure, often skipping meals and reducing food intake, trapped in an endemic cycle of poverty. There are now 1.3 million internally displaced within the country. Germany was the last European country to deport 19 Afghan Asylum seekers just 5 days ago, they arrived early in the morning, some would have never been to Kabul, and yet they are expected to make their lives in a city already massively overpopulated.

In the last year foreign NGOs and workers, including the Red Cross, have pulled out of the country. Foreign diplomats cross Kabul by helicopter when visiting.

Overall the country appears to be in a stalemate situation, the Taliban controls or at least has influence over 50% of the country, US military officials commented last August that they hope to engage the Taliban in ‘peace talks’,possibly allowing them to join with the current government or to hand over various provinces for the Taliban to run.

The Taliban psychology is that they were a legitimate government which was toppled by the US and a puppet government installed. The recent intensity of US attacks has likely made the Taliban even more determined to ‘wait it out’, confident that the US can not maintain its intense presence in the country indefinitely, reasoning that they have nowhere else to go.We at Voices UK continue to visit our friends in Kabul, steadfast in our conviction to support the non violent grassroots activities of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, resolute to show solidarity to our long term friends who are trapped in an imploding bubble. Maya Evans sets to depart imminently, she takes with her the good wishes of UK peace activists, messages of love and support. While in Kabul she will update our friends with the news that the UK peace movement is growing in strength and activity, that the mainstream British public are awake to the fact that global wars are just making everyone more unsafe. 

Fly Kites Not Drones 2018

17th – 25th MarchWhy fly kites not drones?

Killer drones have fast become the preferred weapon of choice for politicians who use them daily to conduct assassinations, execution without trial. A drone pilot is thousands of miles away, at the touch of a button and without judge or jury people are executed. No right to a fair trial, no opportunity for legal defence or a chance to present evidence. Nearly 90% of people killed in recent drone strikes were not the target. 

Fly Kites Not Drones was launched 5 years ago by the Afghan Peace Volunteers who had personal experience of innocent family members killed by drones. The threat of armed drones now means that children in Afghanistan are too afraid to fly their kites and blue skies are a sight of fear. The campaign is now international and an act of solidarity towards all children who live under the threat and psychological trauma of weaponised drones. 

Who we need:
Peace groups, youth groups, community centres, schools, universities, mosques, churches, woodcraft folk and anyone who wants to show
solidarity in the face of the extremely concerning issue of armed drones. 

What & When:
This year’s activities are to, make, buy, find, borrow, and
decorate a kite, do it Afghan style and make a wish to send into the sky
 for Now Roz – Persian New Year 21st March (or around that date). Kite flying is fun wherever you try it, in a park, on the beach, an
open space or next to a military base, just try to stay clear of trees,
lamp posts and overhead power lines! 

Contact us:
Let us know the date, time and place of your action and we’ll make a Facebook page on Fly Kites Not Drones, please email: kitesnotdrones@gmail.com
Tweet your photos @kitesnotdrones #FlyKitesNotDrones

For resources:
T Shirts, Badges, Briefings, Leaflets emails info@dronecampaignnetwork@riseup.net 

Read more: https://theintercept.com/drone-papers/ 

See the launch videohttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k8hlqfDGoAI&t=1s
Kite flying in Kabul: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWNXWgzpAls
Peace group fly kites: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eyNM8bXw-qY 

Educational workshop
The campaign was made into a peace education pack which is free to download and easy to use: www.flykitesnotdrones.orgLosing Sight – The Intercept

Read incredible investigative journalism by The Intercept – Losing Sight – how a 4 year old girl was the sole survivor of a US drone strike in Afghanistan, and then mysteriously disappeared.

3…2…1

3 years since ‘Mission Complete’,
38 years since the Russian invasion,
Afghanistan today 

THREE YEARS AGO TODAY Voices UK were in Kabul with the delegation of Mary Dobbing, Henrietta Cullinan and Maya Evans. We rolled our eyes at the British Government and its media narrative of ‘Afghanistan Mission Complete’, we sat with your young Afghan friends full of love and admiration for them, while also empty of pride for what our country had done to theirs.Last week saw yet another deadly attack by ISKP (ISIS in Afghanistan), claiming 41 lives and injuring 80 civilians. It is now recognised that within the last 2 years ISKP have now overtaken the Taliban for fatal attacks against civilians, normally drawn upon sectarian lines.

Unusually, here in the UK, the BBC, whom rarely to never headline attacks against Afghan civilians, lead with the story all day. Cynical but experienced members of Voices UK hypothesised the possibility of the British public being softened up for further deployment of UK troops (in addition to the 85 redeployed last Summer).

For Afghans, 2017 saw the US drop ‘the mother of all bombs’, Trump announcing an “end to nation building” and a massive ramping up of bombs and missiles with 3,900 being dropped in 2017 alone, 3 times as many as last year, true identities of victims are totally unknown.

Afghanistan is now experienced 4 decades of war and violence, we hold our breaths for what the next year will bring, and we continue to place our faith in our brave young Afghan friends who campaign for peace and non violence.

Read the latest inspiring activities of the Afghan Peace Volunteers who, on international volunteer day 20th December, carried out a litter pick on the streets of Kabul!



Welcome to Kabul
by Ken Hannaford-Ricardi

(Report from Kabul) December 31, 2017 It is a dream come true being back among friends in Kabul! Streams of dented Toyotas (They are all Toyotas!) with windscreens cracked like bolts of lightning still jockey for position on roads where traffic lights and common sense hold little sway. Carts of vegetables drawn by donkeys or dragged by men without dreams continue clotting the already stuttering traffic, forcing it almost to a standstill. Stucco houses remain stapled to mountainsides, one tripping over the other as they race to the top. And smog, as thick and foul-smelling as only winter in Kabul can conjure up. It felt wonderful being home! 

As a team-building exercise, three of us chose this afternoon to clean the chimney of one of our wood stoves. Four lengths of sooty pipe and two elbow joints later, the stove was ready to refire and all three of us needed a good bath. We laughed (mostly young ones) and swore (mostly me) in almost equal proportions.   

As we got ready for bed last night, we heard a sustained series of what most of us thought was gunfire. The wail of a siren followed shortly thereafter and caused us to wonder if we should head to the basement for a bit. We waited it out on the second floor. We were brave, or not. 

This morning brought rumors of three explosions nearby. We scrambled for information, but little was forthcoming. Later, we were forwarded an email from a friend working near us. The attack, it appeared, had centered on a Shia mosque. “It is more than sad,” our friend said. “Latest update showed 45 people killed and 85 wounded. Going to the scene, there is nothing more than blood, flesh, meat, dust, and fear. We again see Afghans die for nothing and families lose their loved ones because of ongoing US-backed war.” My young co-workers are physically okay. 

Tonight, after dinner, I had the chance to talk with a young Afghan friend about his family. Married for just a brief period, his wife conceived. They were happy. Their families rejoiced. One night during their son’s fourth month, he woke up sick enough to be taken to the doctor’s. After an examination, the doctor gave the boy a number of injections, and the family was sent home. Later that same evening, the child’s condition worsened, and the parents took him to a hospital, where he died. My friend and his wife still do not know what claimed their son’s life. 

Welcome to Kabul. 

Ken Hannaford-Ricardi is in Kabul representing Voices for Creative Nonviolence. While there, he is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers. 

VCNV (US) Brian Terrell on
Sputnik Radio:


“Our presence in Afghanistan is making it more dangerous,” Brian Terrell told show hosts..”[The war is] in the interest of the multinational corporations that are cashing in on this… [it’s not in the interest] of the American people or the Afghan people.”
Read & Listen to more.


 
photo credit Pajhwok

Recent News from Afghanistan

NEW FILM RELEASE ‘Prince of Nothingwood’ is highly recommended by VCNV, please recommend your independent cinema to show it, very true to Afghan life.

Are you human?

Internally displaced Afghans in Kabul, Photo by Dr Hakim
Voices for Creative Non Violence UK
December 2017 Newsletter

TODAY in the UK we enjoy the first day of snow with parts of Wales and the Midlands covered in a deep white blanket, we at VCNV are reminded of our friends in Afghanistan who celebrate the first day of snow by taking time to visit friends and family. 

The snows in Afghanistan were traditionally a blessing but are now a sight of dread for some. Without snowfall the Spring crops will fail and the current water crisis will worsen (see article below by Dr Hakim), but the freezing conditions are unbearable for the 1.2 million internally displaced living in inadequate conditions, in some cases freezing to death.

As always, we are heartened and inspired by the positive and productive work of our young friends in Kabul, most recently their address via Skype to an International Permaculture Conference in Hyderabad, India, where they explained the ‘push factors’ of war and the importance of permaculture in Afghanistan. We are also proud of the contribution one of our APVs made to a recent UN report on Afghanistan.

The plight of Afghan refugees in Europe continues to depress, the case of a 6 year old girl being killed on the border of Croatia being the most recent example. Although European countries still deem Afghanistan safe to deport, public awareness of the rapidly worsening security is being recognised, and leading to inspiring grassroots actions such as the German pilots who refused to co-operate with the deportation of 222 Afghans. The Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul continue to meet and carry on with all their grassroots projects. Later this winter a UK delegation will be departing for Kabul, showing our continued solidarity for their work.  This is the time of year we traditionally appeal for funds which go towards theDuvet Project and the Street Kids School.


With so much disaster, war and suffering in the world we totally understand the ‘donation fatigue’ gripped by many of us, however, these projects do need funding and they are extremely deserving causes with every penny directly being taken over and handed to Afghan peace campaigners.
 Voices for Creative Non-Violence UK
The Co-operative Bank
Sort code: 08 92 99
Account: 65583025
Or via paypal

 Thank you for your continued support.

 Mary, Henrietta, Susan & Maya



PEACE the distant hopeful dream of every Afghan – inspiring words from Zarghuna


Between A Rock & A Hard Place
by Maya Evans

(Speech delivered at an MP’s briefing in Parliament last month)

I have been visiting Afghanistan regularly since 2011, working with a nonviolent Afghan youth peace group, recording my general observations, and creating campaigns to keep the ongoing Afghan war within the awareness of UK citizens.  I have made 9 trips so far.  I’d say Kabul has changed considerably over the last seven years, there’s a lot more construction taking place, new buildings seem to pop up overnight and the city seems to have become increasingly busier, there’s a strong feeling that it’s bursting at the seams. When the US and NATO invaded in October 2001, the population of Kabul was 1.5 million, but today that figure stands at 5 million with so many war-displaced flocking to the city for safety, as it is one of the few locations in Afghanistan with no direct fighting between the military forces, the Taliban and IS. That’s not to say that Kabul is in any way safe, with weekly suicide bomb attacks, sporadic street violence, and a small industry of abductions for ransom being common threats. When I first started visiting it was relatively fine for me to walk the streets even though a foreigner, but today my teenage friends earnestly advise all visitors against walking anywhere, urging the hire of taxis for even 5 minute walks. The biggest danger for a foreigner is kidnap, while the biggest worry for everyone is being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Read more



Heavy piling and digging for a new well, photo by Dr Hakim


An Esculating Afghan ‘Crisis’ of Profit Over Life
by Dr Hakim 
(Writing from Kabul)

“My family’s water well has dried up,” 18-year-old Surkh Gul said.“Ours too,” echoed 13-year-old Inaam.A distressed Surkh Gul lamented, “We have to fetch water from the public well along the main road, but that water is muddy, not fit for drinking. I get bottled water for my two-year-old daughter. At least someone in the family should stay healthy.” Inaam chipped in, “Fortunately, for now, the water that we fetch from a nearby mosque is clean.”A U.S. and Afghan Geological Survey of Kabul Basin’s water resources found that about half of the shallow groundwater supply wells could become dry by 2050 due to declining recharge and stream-flows under projected climate change. 
Read more



Maya Evans briefing MPs on the current situation in Afghanistan, as part of an MP’s briefing organised by Stop the War


From The Ground Up
by Kathy Kelly 
(Writing from Kabul)

On a recent Friday at the Afghan Peace Volunteers‘ (APV) Borderfree Center, here in Kabul, thirty mothers sat cross-legged along the walls of a large meeting room. Masoumah, who co-coordinates the Center’s “Street Kids School” project, had invited the mothers to a parents meeting. Burka-clad women who wore the veil over their faces looked identical to me, but Masoumah called each mother by name, inviting the mothers, one by one, to speak about difficulties they faced. From inside the netted opening of a burka, we heard soft voices and, sometimes, sheer despair. Others who weren’t wearing burkas also spoke gravely. Their eyes expressed pain and misery, and some quietly wept. Often a woman’s voice would break, and she would have to pause before she could continue

“I have debts that I cannot pay,” whispered the first woman

“My children and I are always moving from place to place. I don’t know what will happen.”

“I am afraid we will die in an explosion.”

“My husband is paralyzed and cannot work. We have no money for food, for fuel.”

“My husband is old and sick. We have no medicine.”

“I cannot feed my children.”

“How will we live through the winter?”

“I have pains throughout my whole body.”

“I feel hopeless.”

“I feel depressed, and I am always worried.”

“I feel that I’m losing my mind.”

Read more


Photo: Masoumah invites Afghan mothers to speak about difficulties they face (credit: APVs)


Fly Kites Not Drones 2018
21st March Nao Roz


BIG plans are already aloft for Fly Kites Not Drones WEEK OF ACTION 17th- 25th March, to coincide with the Persian New Year, already  confirmed events taking place in:
RAF Waddington, Abderdeen, Edinburgh, Leicester, Bradford, London and Hastings.

Please help spread the message and organise an event in your area.

Kite making instructions HERE and education pack (free to download) HERE

Despite the declaration that the war with ISIS is “over”, there are no plans to withdrawn UK drones from Iraq & Syria, drones ensure we are now in a perpetual state of war.



Why Fly Kites Not Drones?

Young Afghans, Mexicans & Spanish say: “We are the future family”
Join & listen to conversations during Global Days of Listening, 21st December

Between a rock and a hard place

Maya Evans briefing MPs in Parliament about the current situation in Afghanistan

by Maya Evans

10th December 2017

Address to MPs in Parliament, as part of a Stop the War briefing

I have been visiting Afghanistan regularly since 2011, working with a nonviolent Afghan youth peace group, recording my general observations, and creating campaigns to keep the ongoing Afghan war within the awareness of UK citizens.  I have made 9 trips so far.  I’d say Kabul has changed considerably over the last seven years, there’s a lot more construction taking place, new buildings seem to pop up overnight and the city seems to have become increasingly busier, there’s a strong feeling that it’s bursting at the seams. When the US and NATO invaded in October 2001, the population of Kabul was 1.5 million, but today that figure stands at 5 million (1) with so many war-displaced flocking to the city for safety, as it is one of the few locations in Afghanistan with no direct fighting between the military forces, the Taliban and IS. That’s not to say that Kabul is in any way safe, (2) with weekly suicide bomb attacks, sporadic street violence, and a small industry of abductions for ransom being common threats. When I first started visiting it was relatively fine for me to walk the streets even though a foreigner, but today my teenage friends earnestly advise all visitors against walking anywhere, urging the hire of taxis for even 5 minute walks. The biggest danger for a foreigner is kidnap (3), while the biggest worry for everyone is being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

My friends in the Afghan Peace Volunteers (4) live in Karte Se – District 3 – a relatively mixed residential area within Kabul. Taking a short walk to the local bazaar gives you a snapshot of the some of the many problems gripping Afghanistan. The opportunity to venture out is rare and very exciting, the bustle of Kabul street life is intensely stimulating on the senses, the echo of recorded announcements from tannoys which are strapped to carts selling juicy oranges from Jalalabad, or towers of pomegranates from Kandahar, or cauliflowers bigger than your head. The blue cloudless sky and bright sunlight is blinding, the spectacular Hindu Kush mountains in the background look unreal, as though someone had cut a picture out of the National Geographic and stuck it behind a very busy city scene.

Most of my shopping experiences are to Karte Seh’s “Red Bridge”, from which much of the red paint has now been chipped away (it’s generally caked in dirt). The bridge is a hive of activity, though: it is a market.  People compete for spaces, labourers sit with their shovels, waiting for work, representing an estimated 40% of the male population who are currently unemployed (5). A woman under a burka clutches a small baby bundled in rags, with her head bent and a begging-hand extended. I am told prostitution is a thriving industry, but what is under the bridge is even worse. The bridge once crossed a lush river where in the ‘70s children swam and people fished for their suppers, but today the riverbed is a dumping ground for uncollected rubbish, where a grey slug stream snakes around discarded water bottles, plastic bags and general detritus, and the people who have become addicted to opium.  This is a popular congregation point for them; openly consuming heroin, their hands and gaunt faces black with dirt, their eyes vacant, because their souls have been robbed. Today Afghanistan has approximately 3 million people addicted to opium, a staggering 12% of the population (6) due mainly to the massive surge of the lucrative poppy cultivation industry after the start of the war. Today warlords dominate Afghanistan despite copious blood on their hands from unspeakable massacres during the war and in the decades before it; and many of these are now directing an opium industry which accounts for 90% of the world’s supply, up from only 27% before the 2001 invasion (7). This relatively new phenomenon catches Afghanistan with  little-to-no infrastructure ready to cope with it, the rehab clinics being few and far between, and the reasons for wanting to forget all too obvious.

When in Kabul I usually make a point of visiting some of the refugee camps, of which there are now 50  in and around Kabul (8). For several consecutive years I have visited the “Charman-e-Babrak” camp which sits near a row of private health clinics, across a mud road with no laid surfaces so that cars often get stuck in deep pot holes, and cyclists ride in zigzags. In the last 7 years I’ve seen no improvements in that camp, it’s the same children walking around in the mud and snow with either no shoes or just sandals. The heavy stench of raw sewage immediately smacks you in the face upon entering the camp via a rickety makeshift corrugated iron bridge over the camp’s roadside moat, a torrent of raw flowing sewage. The houses are made of mud bricks and of scavenged bits of scrap iron and wood, with old bits of canvas stretched over to make a roof. These are the conditions for some of Afghanistan’s 1.3 million internally displaced people, a staggering figure which threatens to steadily increase as more refugees are deported en-masse from Pakistan, Iran and Europe (9).

To contextualize the Kabul camps, I should mention that I’ve spent time in the Jungles of Calais, and can confirm that they are a humanitarian disaster and a disgrace for the developed world; but  in comparison to an Afghan refugee camp the Calais Jungle conditions are not half  bad. Many Afghan camps receive little to no aid, they’re a nowhere land full of nowhere people, and generally a ‘no go’ zone for visitors. From speaking to people in Kabul camps it seems that once you land there it’s more or less impossible to get out, and they are your long-term-to-permanent future. There are, of course, also a calculated 2 million Afghans seeking refuge outside the country,   making up the second biggest ethnicity of refugees in Europe, and many of their futures will lie in the desperate camps around Kabul, as most European countries (10) have judged Kabul a ‘safe’ location for deportation, despite the fact that many refugees have never visited Kabul, and have no family or friends in the city.

My visits to Afghanistan have always been to Kabul, as for a foreigner to venture outside the city would be extremely dangerous. Even for an Afghan it’s deadly dangerous: my friends describe it as the ‘Wild West’ with vehicles regularly stopped by the Taliban, people asked for ID and sometimes executed if found to have connections with foreigners. One of my young Afghan friends Zahra watched her friends’ execution after their bus was stopped by the Taliban in Kandahar. Four of her friends, all aged eighteen, had made the mistake of travelling with their student ID cards on them.  Today Zahra struggles with depression, trying desperately to erase the memory of witnessing the roadside end of her classmates.

All of my Afghan friends exhibit some sort of behaviour ‘issue’ whether that’s throwing things at walls, or ripping up clothing, or falling prey to fits of rage, depression, detachment. Pretty much everyone in Afghanistan has directly lost a family member during the last 38 years of war. Last year my friend Ali lost his older brother: a police officer in Kandahar who fell victim to an IED. Then there’s 15 year old street-kid Habib, the main bread winner of his family after his father was killed, six years back, in a sectarian-based attack on a Shia mosque.Researchers calculate that for every one of these direct casualties of war, another 4 Afghans die due to indirect war causes such as hunger, disease and injury (11). Just the other week, one of the main co-ordinators of the group unexpectedly lost his 4 month old son: today Afghanistan has the second-highest infant mortality rate in the world (12).  Everyone in Afghanistan has experienced loss, everyone lives close to death, the feeling of deep depression is evident in the faces of all people, mental health statistics are staggering, it is calculated that 68% of the population suffer from depression, 72% from anxiety and 42% from post-traumatic stress disorders (13).

The other week I chatted via Viber to 11-year-old street-kid Inam who polishes shoes for a living. He and his friends sometime call me on a Sunday morning to practice their English: we normally talk about our favourite fruits and vegetables. Last Sunday their teacher explained that Inam’s water well had dried up, now a common problem in Kabul and across Afghanistan where only 27% of the population can access clean water (14). Today in Kabul the wells are having to be drilled an extra 40 metres deep to reach a dropping water table (15), with the water crisis about to worsen with a Chinese copper mine north of Kabul having recently opened: water in great quantities is a must of the mining process (16). Much more foreign mining will almost certainly follow, with a geological study having calculated that Afghanistan has an estimated $3 trillion worth of precious materials to be mined (17). It’s deeply ironic that one of the poorest countries in the world has such potential riches. Afghans that I speak to are doubtful that they will see any of that wealth. It is calculated that 36% of Afghans are currently living below the poverty line (18).

During my last visit to Kabul, made earlier this year, I chatted to my young friend Gul, who faces, with an absent father, a high expectation of being the family breadwinner at age 17 for a family of 6 younger siblings. He asked me for advice, “Should I leave Afghanistan for Europe? What is there for me in this country, there is no work, the streets are dangerous even for walking, my life will amount to nothing if I stay.” I really didn’t know what to say to him, I shared with him what I do know, that the journey to Europe is extremely dangerous, that many people die en route, and that today the EU (19) and the UK (20) deem Kabul a ‘safe’ location to which to deport Afghans, so that even if you do make it to Europe there’s every chance of just being deported back again … I felt deeply compromised answering his question, as in reality there is very little for people in Afghanistan.

One of my other contacts in Kabul is Latifa Ahmadi, Director of the “Organisation to Promote Afghan Women’s Capabilities”, a grassroots organisation which trains women in handicrafts and provides basic literacy and numeracy education allowing women to run small home businesses and provide an extra income for their families. Latifa has razor-sharp intelligence and a stunning dedication to the task of helping Afghan women, although she has received death threats for running such an organisation. Many of the women who attend class do so in secrecy from their husbands, their fathers, and other family members. I was very struck at our last meeting when Latifa described the current state of the country as “worse than living under the Taliban.” She went on to explain, “living under the Taliban was awful and oppressive for women – but at least there was security, you could travel on the roads and it was relatively safe. Today travelling by road is very unpredictable.”

In relation to women generally, very small gains have been made in the last 16 years. Certainly I have met women in Kabul who say their lives have been greatly improved since the removal of the Taliban, but these women have largely been middle-class professionals, those in academia and the NGO world. Without a doubt those women would not have been able to have had professional jobs under the Taliban. And there have been gains for girls in Kabul who, with the consent of family, are generally able to access schools (unless they’re street kids or refugees). However, for girls living outside of Kabul, in the rural provinces, very few enjoy the chance to attend school with a current estimate of 1,100 Afghan children dropping out of school every day (21). Instability within the country means it’s unsafe for many children to attend school, or they must work to support the family: at least a quarter of Afghan children are engaged in child labour (22). Then there’s the 2009 “Elimination of Violence Against Women Act” which is still struggling to be passed, though in 2015 the Supreme Court banned the imprisonment of women for running away from their husbands, with the caveat that if a woman does leave her husband she must go to a medical provider, the police, or the house of a close male relative (23). None of those locations are ideal for a woman trying to escape domestic violence.

When I speak with Afghan women’s rights activists they all share the opinion that war makes it difficult-to-impossible for women to organise and promote equality, as priority must be given to keeping themselves and their families alive.

To be an Afghan today is to be stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one side you have the Taliban, and now IS, using IEDs, suicide bombs and pressure plate devices, and on the other side you have Government forces and illegal militias who employ rockets and mortars. All of these weapons are devastating for civilians; and more often than not, civilians are caught up in the fighting. The last UNAMA report published in July 2017 calculated 1,662 civilians killed in the first 6 months of the year with 3,581 injured, and of those killed 174 were women and 436 were children, a 23% and 19% increase respectively from the previous year (24). UN figures show that since January 2009 more than 26,500 civilians have been killed and 49,000 injured as a result of conflict, while the “Cost of War” project says an overall conservative estimate of Afghans killed since 2001 is 217,000 (25). It’s reported that both sides in the conflict have attacked hospitals and healthcare facilities: in February 2016 Afghan Special Forces raided a health clinic run by a Swedish humanitarian organisation (26), attacking medical staff and shooting three patients dead. In September 2016 the Taliban dressed as doctors and attacked a hospital in Kandahar city killing one civilian (27). And then there’s the well-publicised US bombing of the MSF hospital in Kunduz, killing 42 civilians (28), an incident still under investigation which is being described as a ‘war crime’.

Last August President Trump stated in a speech that his intentions in Afghanistan were “not nation building again, we are killing terrorists.” The Pentagon has deployed a further 3,900 US troops to bolster up the 8,400 already in the country alongside 13,000 NATO troops, a redeployment which comes just months after the US dropped the ‘mother of all bombs’ on Nangarhar Province, one of the poorest regions in one of the poorest countries in the world. Donald Trump’s speech and recent tactics suggest that the US will employ more aerial bombing in its fight against the ever-strong Taliban and the increasingly influential IS. Again, aerial bombing is devastating for civilians stuck between a rock and a hard place: with so much of Europe closing its borders, there is simply nowhere for them to go.

Today, most Afghans are deprived of their most basic universal human rights. The future for Afghanistan looks even grimmer than the present, with many predicting all-out civil war eliciting intensified violence from foreign fighters. The discovery of abundant natural resources almost certainly means foreign interests will continue to reign over Afghanistan, with mining-exacerbated ‘water wars’ visible on the not too distant horizon. It’s hard to imagine how things actually could get any worse in an already war-weary country, on its knees and broken after 4 decades of conflict and violence. When I speak to Afghans about what foreigners can do to help, their most common response is: “foreign fighters have so far not helped this country, they haven’t beaten the Taliban, lots of civilians have been killed. If you want to help Afghans then support our schools and healthcare, support civil society groups, but please, stop killing us.”

(1) https://www.undispatch.com/a-photo-essay-of-life-in-kabul-ten-years-after-the-international-intervention-part-ii/kabuls-population-swelled-from-1-5-million-in-2001-to-an-estimated-5-million-today/

(2) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/17/civilian-deaths-in-afghanistan-war-at-record-high-says-un

(3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreign_hostages_in_Afghanistan

(4) http://ourjourneytosmile.com/blog/

(5) http://www.tolonews.com/afghanistan/unemployment-rate-spikes-afghanistan

(6) https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/opium-use-booms-in-afghanistan-creating-a-silent-tsunami-of-addicted-women/2017/06/19/6c5b16f2-3985-11e7-a59b-26e0451a96fd_story.html?utm_term=.df6a4170a87a

(7) http://uk.businessinsider.com/opium-poppy-production-increasing-in-afghanistan-during-war-2016-11?r=US&IR=T

(8) http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/04/afghanistan-internal-refugee-crisis-160411083354489.html

(9) http://www.tolonews.com/afghanistan/130000-afghan-refugees-deported-iran-so-far-year

(10) https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/10/europes-great-betrayal/

(11) https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=23&v=aVr0MSEW2SU

(12) https://www.unicef.org/afghanistan/health_nutrition_2179.htm

(13) https://ec.europa.eu/europeaid/case-studies/tackling-mental-health-afghanistan_en

(14) https://www.hydratelife.org/afghanistans-water-crisis/

(15) http://ourjourneytosmile.com/blog/2017/11/an-escalating-afghan-crisis-of-profit-over-life/

(16) https://www.cnbc.com/2016/12/16/china-cleared-by-taliban-to-mine-for-copper-in-afghanistan.html

(17) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/afghanistans-untapped-minerals-worth-3-trillion-2003616.html

(18) http://outlookafghanistan.net/national_detail.php?post_id=13565

(19) https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/oct/03/eu-european-union-signs-deal-deport-unlimited-numbers-afghan-asylum-seekers-afghanistan

(20) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/refugee-crisis-afghanistan-ruled-safe-enough-to-deport-asylum-seekers-from-uk-a6910246.html

(21) http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/03/1100-afghan-children-day-drop-school-170323060014972.html

(22) https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/07/14/they-bear-all-pain/hazardous-child-labor-afghanistan

(23) https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017/country-chapters/afghanistan

(24) https://unama.unmissions.org/extreme-harm-afghan-civilians-continues-suicide-attacks-worsen-latest-un-report-shows

(25) http://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/

(26) http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/02/killed-afghan-forces-raid-swedish-run-clinic-160219044441899.html

(27) https://www.wsj.com/articles/militants-dressed-as-doctors-attack-a-kandahar-hospital-1473699923

(28) https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/apr/29/kunduz-hospital-attack-msf-us-military-charges

Love & the Peace Garden

Afghan Peace Garden
LAUNCH
Over the Equinox we officially launched our new ongoing campaign Afghan Peace Garden. In Kabul, former street kid Habib plants roses & tells his story.

Habib in his Afghan Peace Garden, narrowly escaped being caught up with a suicide car bomb attack, tells his story
Habib & his Afghan Peace Garden
We first met Habib back in 2012 when the Afghan Peace Volunteers launched the Street Kids School Project, he was one of the first to arrive with his mother Mariam. Since then Habib has been a regular member of the Boarder Free Peace Centre, gaining an education and a nurturing environment. He is now a central member of the team.

Habib launched our Afghan Peace Garden campaign by planting Persian Roses in the Permaculture plot. 

While doing so he narrowly escaped being caught up in a suicide car bomb attack, now a regular part of Kabul life.

Habib reflects on the suicide attack which took his fathers’ life 6 years ago, making him the breadwinner of the family.




For many years Habib worked with his scales, weighing people for 5 afs.

Today he goes to school and hopes for a peaceful future for Afghanistan. 

Participants at the ‘Youth on the Road to Peace’ Conference discussed the idea of peace parks, they all decided to build peace parks in their home provinces.

Habib planted Persian Roses for solidarity, please join him and plant your own Afghan Peace Garden.


Afghan Peace Gardens are to remember all displaced Afghans, the ongoing war in Afghanistan, and the deportation of Afghans from EU countries, back to Kabul, the only part of the country deemed ‘safe’.
Community Gardens

The first action undertaken by the Afghan Peace Volunteers in 2009 was to plant a Peace Garden’ in their home town of Bamiyan.

The Garden still exists today, a long term act of solidarity to peace. 
Please approach your local community garden project and ask them to dedicate a plot of land to Afghanistan, with remembrance and recognition. 

Permaculture projects
The Afghan Peace Volunteers realise the importance of working with nature for the means of survival. If you have a local permaculture or food project please ask them to dedicate some space for peace.
In Kabul this month…
ON THE ROAD TO NON-VIOLENT PEACE
Youth from 24 of the 34 Afghan Provinces joined together for the APV ‘On the Road to Non-Violent Peace’ Conference between the 18th-21st September to discuss war, climate change and the solutions.
Read More
Happening across the UK
Drone Campaign Network have teamed up with the Art Department at the Ministry of Defence to run a public competition to ‘Rebrand Reaper’. 
Hold events on your street stall, download the template here, and ask members of the public to “Rebrand Reaper”.
Enter the competition via Twitter @RebrandReaper @DefenceHQ #RebrandReaper
or email: RebrandReaper@gmail.com

Afghan Peace Garden

Launching our new campaign for the EquinoxAfghan Peace Garden
TODAY, winter Equinox, we are launching our new campaign ‘Afghan Peace Garden’ to raise awareness of the mass displacement of Afghans, both for the 1.2 million internally displaced and  the 4-6 million scattered across the world.

The campaign is also drawing attention to the food crisis currently gripping Afghanistan.

This projects is ideal for schools wanting to explore Afghan culture and displacement in general, food growing projects who have a corner in their existing gardens, peace groups with a local brownfield site in need of a face lift, or poignant remembrance ceremonies outside a military base; this simple action will carry a lot of significance and solidarity.

Afghan Peace Garden is very much inspired by the Afghan Peace Volunteered who formed with the action of planting a peace garden in Bamiyan 2011.

Plants we are recommending:

Persian Roses: the first thing that greets you at Kabul Airport, a country once famed for its intoxicating Persian rose gardens, a reminder of the days when Afghanistan lived in peace and Afghan culture flourished

Permaculture Principles: inspired by the works of the APV permaculture project in Kabul, and acknowledging the crippling food crisis Afghanistan currently faces with 25% of Afghans under the age of 5 malnourished, an important reminder of the basics denied to Afghans.

Peace Poppies:
 a crop which likes to grow on recently disturbed earth, echoing the constant footsteps of Afghans forced to leave their homes, displaced due to war. The poppy cash crop has also played a part in destroying the country with a population of 1 million Afghans now addicted to opium and still producing 90% of the world’s opium supply. We ask for white poppies planted to symbolise the displacement of Afghans and also those crushed by opium addiction.

This campaign in being launched on the 21-23rd September over Equinox, a traditional time of year to ready the ground for the harvest ahead, looking forward, planting new seeds of resistance & solidarity..

The Afghan Peace Volunteers will be launching the project by holding a ‘planting action’ in Kabul during the Equinox weekend. Please follow and support this project.Afghan Peace Garden Plaques – if possible we are recommending groups display plaques in their gardens, recommended text:

Due to the ongoing war raging across Afghanistan, we would like to:
– remember all displaced Afghans
– recognise the crippling food shortages for Afghans
– hope for peace Possible places to plant your gardens:
– Brownfield sites, existing community gardens, school gardens, allotments, outside & inside military bases, in front of the MOD, homeless shelters, drug rehab centres, bus stops, retirement homes, or inside your own garden!

Groups who might be interested:
– Youth groups, schools, buildings of worship, peace groups, edible food projects, community gardens, refugee centres, those recovering from substance addiction.

Tweet your garden: #AfghanPeaceGarden @VCNVUK Facebook us: Voices for Creative Non Violence UK We encourage everyone to simply remember Afghanistan by planting Afghan Peace Gardens.
VCNV UK spent a week outside the DSEi arms fair at the ExCel Centre, Docklands. The very creative week saw over 100 arrests  with pre trial hearings taking place this week. Rumors from inside the ExCel centre suggested the arms fair ended up being 2 days behind in its set up, hiring extra carpenters to work round the clock. Most defendants will use ‘necessity’ as a legal argument in court, this argument was successfully used for previous DSEI defendants.
Rebrand Reaper

This year for the drone week of action we have taken up the request of the ‘Art Department’ at the MOD, who are trying to rebrand the reaper drone.

So far the multi million pound publicity commission have come up with ‘protector drone’ as an alternative, however they would like to open the challenge to members of the public.
Use the template opposite to ‘Rebrand Reaper’ and enter the competition by tweeting your photo to @RebrandReaper @DefenceHQ 

What’s Happening in Afghanistan?

Voices for Creative Non-Violence UK
‘Bubble of Hope’ Speaking Tour


‘Bubble of Hope’ : Speaking Tour 4th-13th JulyIn a nutshell, things are worse than bad in Afghanistan – unsurprisingly the 14 year war led by the US & NATO didn’t work. 18 months after foreign troops declared “Afghanistan Mission Complete” the Taliban have regained at least 40% of the country, the US have dropped ‘the mother of all bombs’ and are now planning to redeploy troops back into the country, meanwhile Afghanistan has more or less dropped out of the news. VCNV have continued to support and be in solidarity with the incredible Afghan Peace Volunteers – a non-violent youth group in Kabul. In the coming months we will be speaking up and down the country, spreading news of hope and creative works in a country torn apart by 4 decades of war. 

Talks will mainly focus on the hopeful grassroots projects of the APV and the ‘Bubble of Hope’ they’ve managed to create in their ‘Borderfree Peace Centre’. All speakers have visited Afghanistan in the recent years – hear eyewitnesses accounts and find out what you can do to help and support young Afghans working towards a brighter future for their country.

 Catch us THIS WEEK at the following locations….. 

Tues 4th July Menwith Hill 4pm
Organised by Campaign Against American Bases (CAAB)
Mass Rally for Independence (from American bases)

Wed 5th July Bradford
Fly Kites Not Drones ‘pop up’ workshop 2pm City Park
Good News from Afghanistan’ 6.30pm Speakers Corner
4 Ivegate, Bradford BD1

Thurs 6th July Edinburgh
2-3.30pm Edinburgh University (students only)
7-9pm Public Talk Quaker Meeting House
7 Victoria Terrace EH1 2JL

Friday 7th July Edinburgh
10am-1pm Fly Kites Not Drones workshop
Meadows Pavilion Cafe

Saturday 8th July Glasgow
11am CND office
77 Southpark Avenue G12

Sunday 9th July Dundee
7pm call 07973 484 202

Monday 10th July Aberdeen
7.30pm Unite the Union
42-44 King Street AB24 5TJ

Wed 12th July York
7.30pm Friends Meeting House
Friargate Y01 9RL

Thurs 13th July
London 1.30pm Fly Kites Not Drones Schools Workshop
(Tower Hamlets)
Brighton Catalyst Club 7.30pm 
14-17 Manchester Street, BN2 1TF


 If you would like to book a speaker or workshop facilitator please contact us
Afghan street kid Mubasir smiles despite his difficulties

Latest from the Afghan Peace Volunteers

The Afghan Peace Volunteers run the Borderfree Street Kids School in Kabul, with 17 volunteer teachers teaching 100 multi-ethnic street kids Dari, Math, Nonviolence and tailoring every Friday, and providing monthly gifts of rice and oil for their families. There are now an estimated 2,200,000 Afghan children between 8 and 14 years of age who are involved in some kind of labour. 

At this Eid, the Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul are collecting their Eid-e-Fitr for Yemenis who are starving in their conflict-driven food crisis, while Afghans abroad will be trying to make a small Eid-e-Fitr collection for Afghan street kids like Mubasir in Kabul.

Mubasir is just a kid.But, like millions of kids today,he works harder than many Presidents.He works in order to survive,and goes to school with an eagerness to learnthough he is taught hardly anything;just fake and useless tests, violence and fear. Read more……

To Touch A Colourful Afghanistan – Seeing With The Heart

Voices for Creative Non-Violence UK
April 2017 Newsletter
Seeing With The Heart 
‘The essential is invisible; it’s with the heart we see’
Antoine de St Exupery ‘The Little Prince’


 In 2012 I was part of the first VCNVUK delegation to the APV home in Kabul. I think it was Kathy Kelly who suggested that I find out about visual impairment in Afghanistan as I myself am visually impaired. I wrote to Hakim before our visit and an APV found out about the school, Rayab, run by Benafsha and her husband, Mehdi. Our delegation visited the school and were warmly welcomed by staff and students.Over the past five years I have kept in touch with Mehdi and Benafsha. As well as being able to send them a small, regular amount of money for their projects, it has been a pleasure to receive up to date news of their on going work. I was delighted to learn about the APV involvement in the school and find Hakim’s piece really inspiring.Since visiting Afghanistan I have also visited Russia several times. On two of these visits I visited projects for blind people and a school for visually impaired and blind children. In Russia I spoke about Rayab to the children in the school.

It seems to me that in visiting Afghanistan and Russia one gift I have to offer is my own visual impairment. It is not always a disability but can be a way of creating links.
 The 2012 visit to Kabul still lives in my mind and heart. I have not returned, not because I don’t want to but because I don’t need to in order to stay connected to my Afghan friends. The combination of my age and disability seem to be indications that such a visit would now be impractical. I have written at greater length about the experience of visual impairment in Afghanistan on my blog in a piece from January 2013 called ‘From Cowley Road to Kabul 4: V.I.P. in Afghanistan’
Susan Clarkson
 

To Touch A Colourful Afghanistan

by Dr Hakim (in Kabul)

With regards to human hope in Afghanistan, most of the world is blind.We don’t see Sonia’s daily effort to live meaningfully, as mainstream media have replaced our eyes and is just as obsessed with war as politicians are, as if war is attractive.We overlook the resilience Nature demonstrates despite what international militarists are doing to her and to people, plain people, Afghans, Syrians, Yemenis, or ‘the others’ on different killing lists.We don’t even hear what’s obvious,“We are human beings.”Not objects, not targets.

For Banafsha, a sound is a colour,

touch is colour,

understanding is colour.

A bullet isn’t a colour….

“Bombs frighten me,”

Hadisa, a volunteer teacher, said at our meeting.

The watchman of another school for the visually impaired was killed

by extremists who entered via the yard of the blind,

into the American University Hadisa studies at,

to wreck havoc,

drowning in a failed tit-for-tat war,

shoot, anger, shoot, revenge.

All that was achieved

was a bloody red…. 

Read more

photos by Dr Hakim’

Mother of all bombs’ (Massive Ordance Air Blast) Last week the U.S. dropped a 21,500 pound bomb on Achin district, Nangarhar Province, the biggest (non nuclear) bomb in the U.S. military arsenal.

Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, the U.S. is one of the richest – the MOAB cost $170,000Trump has not confirmed whether he personally authorised the mission, instead stating that he has given his military “total authorisation”.The war with Afghanistan is now in its 15th year.Little information is know about how many people were killed, the U.S. are claiming 96 IS militants, however it is unclear how this figure originated.The MOAB is designed for maximum destruction, exploding a few feet above the ground, sending a wave of fire and blasts for hundreds of yards, flattening trees, collapsing cave entrances, killing and demoralising those within the impact zone.There is already speculation that the bomb was dropped in order to test its capability.Civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria have dramatically spiked since Trump took power.

Dr Hakim & Basir Bita (Afghan Peace Volunteers) on Democracy Now! with Kathy Kelly talking about the largest (non-nuclear) bomb dropped on Afghanistan last week

Watch the full interview

Tune in for Global Days of Listening TOMORROW
Friday 21st April 2-5pm GMT
Live discussion with the Afghan Peace Volunteers (and friends)

Setting Seed

Voices for Creative Non Violence UK Newsletter
April 2017

Tree Planting In KabulDeforestation in AfghanistanIn 2015 the United Nations Environmental Program estimates that over the past three decades, Afghanistan’s forest cover has decreased by about 50%.In 2015 the United Nations Environmental Program estimates that over the past three decades, Afghanistan’s forest cover has decreased by about 50%.Years of war, drought and illegal timber smuggling are responsible.On the 1st and 2nd of April 2017, the Afghan Peace Volunteers planted 90 evergreen trees and 180 poplar trees in two government schools, including in a girls school compound that had no buildings, only open air and tent classrooms. 

 Why Are Afghan Trees Going to School?
by Dr Hakim in Kabul

 Why are you, an Afghan tree sapling, going to school, when there really is no school, no teachers, no lessons even if there were teachers, no learning even if there were lessons?What economic value are you, since that’s the motivation injected into parents who send their children away from their war-driven poverty and joblessness to an education system that pretends to test a child’s abilities? Why give shade to the memorization of information that has no relevance to life nor questions to resist the nepotism or corruption of money?Why provide oxygen to war, only to be razed to the ground by its operators? The trees spoke powerfully without speaking, standing firm, taking root,“We are life, despite your deceptions, and your morbidities.”

 Read more
photos by Dr Hakim

Donate to the APV ‘World Without War’ project


Kite flying winners….Best Kite Flying Photograph
Edinburgh Peace & Justice

Thanks to everyone who took part!


Best Kite Design
Dervinderpal Sehgal in India


This is a guaranteed feel great special kite flying video with the Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul – top quality vibes – *ESSENTIAL VIEWING*


War on Want also produced a Fly Kites Not Drones video to raise general awareness about weaponised drone warfare – please share on social media! 

It’s Playtime…

Voices for Creative Non-Violence UK Newsletter
Fly Kites Not Drones 2017 COMPETITION!!! 


Big thanks to everyone who took part in Fly Kites Not Drones 2017.

Up and down the country groups held kite flying events in solidarity with children who live under the threat of weaponised drones, while raising awareness about the threat and psychological impact which drones cause to those living under them. 

Below are some of the entires for our competition, and it’s still not too late to enter…. the categories are:

– Best kite design
– Best kite flying photograph
– Best short film of your action (loaded to YouTube)

Email entires to kitesnotdrones@gmail.com by the 31st March
Prizes will be awarded for each category
 #FlyKitesNotDrones @VCNVUK
Some of the entries (so far) for the FKND 2017 Competition…

Kaballz for Peace
The Borderfree Afghan Football Team

There are now 20 players, of different ethnicity, who participate in the weekly training sessions organised by the Afghan Peace Volunteers Non-Violence Football team. 

They have been training for over a year and hope to overcome prejudices by getting the different ethnic groups to work together. 
– It costs £16.50 per week to hire training pitches
– Fortnightly practices for a year comes to £420, weekly practices £840

The APV Football Team is a creative response by young Afghan people who have chosen to not follow the status quo of violence and oppression, young people who have no experience of what it’s like to live in peace, but still strive towards that dream, and see football as a part of achieving that.
DONATE to the Borderfree Football Team
The Borderfree Afghan Football Team
Amir, age 20, Captain
Position: Defence


“I love football because it’s a group game. If there were prejudices before the match they fade away once we warm up and start playing. 

Sport is a good place for health and well being.”

Malik, age 17
Position: Right wing


“Football is a good game to teach the next generation, instead of playing with guns or getting into violence.

It’s a popular game which is interesting and challenging.”

Nurallah, age 17
Position: Defence


“It’s a game where everyone can participate regardless of their ethnicity.

Discrimination and prejudices are challenged when we work with other players on the team who are different ethnicities, it helps people overcome divisions.”

Sami, age 19
Position: Forward


“Since I was a kid we lived in an area with mixed ethnicities, and we always played together.
Whenever we play on the same team we all have the same goal and we need to work together, when we do it shows what we can achieve.

I think football can help to resolve conflicts as it shows how we can work together.”

Mahadi, age 19
Position: Defence


“It’s my favourite game because it’s good for our health and it’s a group game.

When people play together they become friends, ethnic division disappear, it reduces discrimination and creates friends.”

Barath Khan, age 20
Position: Centre Forward


“I feel so happy when I exercise, and that happiness goes into the game and the people I am playing with.

Our football team shows how the differnet ethnic groups can co-operate and get along to achieve.

I am proud to be a part of the Non Violence Football team.”

Watch the short video about the Borderfree Afghan Football Team